A boy from Barre who dreamt of racing has made a career as a state senator, a lieutenant governor and now will be making a bid for governor of Vermont in 2016.
On his visit to Castleton University, hosted by the Castleton GOP club, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott spoke to a modest-sized crowd of students and community members about what Vermont needs to strengthen its economy.
After traveling the state and essentially working a day in life of workers in a variety of professions from a railroad worker to second-grade teacher, Scott was able to see the real issues Vermonters face.
“What I found is we are suffering from a crisis of affordability,” he said. “Students get out of school with debt and other expenses so even if there are jobs, they can’t afford to live here.”
Because Vermont is a less affordable place to live than many other states, there are 8,800 fewer people in the workforce than there were in June 2011, according to Scott. The demographic that is being lost at the highest rate is the 25 to 45-year-old age range — the group that would be having children.
Due to this loss, the state is educating 20,000 fewer students compared to 20 years ago, Scott said.
One suggestion he offered to increase population is to welcome more legal immigrants the way Burlington and other cities have begun to do.
Scott was a businessman before a politician, which has shaped his political focuses.
“I didn’t have a political bone in my body 20 years ago,” he said. “I went into business which gave me the foundation for who I am. Seeing the struggles employees face — the struggles we all face.”
Scott realized the state legislators didn’t understand the issues working Vermonters faced, so he chose to do something about it by running for state senator in 1999. He has served as lieutenant governor for the last five years.
Because of his focus on business, he has worked hard to push pro-business bills through the legislature.
He noted that of all 1,211 bills in the legislative season, only 20 were pro-economy and only two or three actually passed.
“If we all pull in the same direction and make business a priority we will be better off,” he said.
Scott also took time to recognize the many legislators in the audience from both parties who showed up in support. Being friends with people from opposing parties can be a good thing, he said.
“As a Republican I’ve always served in the minority and I’ve learned a lot about bipartisanship, reaching across lines, making deals,” he said.
Back when Scott was a new senator, Sen. Dick Mazza, a Democrat, took Scott under his wing. When running for lieutenant governor, many people suggested he cut this tie due to Mazza’s opposing political party, but Scott disagreed.
“It was important for people to know that I had a close democrat friend who supported me,” Scott said. “Working with people from the other party, you do find compromise, you do listen, you do your best and what you think is right.”
During the lieutenant governor conference in March, Scott discussed Vermont’s health insurance exchange with representatives from other states and has been discussing alternative possibilities with legislators in Connecticut and Rhode Island. He also hopes Vermont can work with New Hampshire and Maine saying all three states have relatively small populations and could use each other’s help.
When asked by a student what he believed Vermont’s largest obstacle to growth is, Scott said it is Vermonters’ unwillingness to think outside the box and change how business is done.
Professor Rich Clark, director of Castleton Polling Institute, was very pleased with the opportunity Scott’s visit provided for students.
“I think it’s fabulous. When students put the questions important to them in front of the candidate they might get the responses they want,” Clark said.
GOP club members likewise found his visit incredibly useful.
“I think it was great and a great thing for Castleton,” said GOP Club Chairman, Patrick Gilligan.
“Students don’t take the time to watch the news or understand what’s going on,” said Zack Holzworth, club vice chairman. “It’s a way to keep the students informed of what’s going on in our state and country. Also to put Republicans in the senate and house to make the state government more balanced.”
The club plans to bring more politicians to campus including Randy Brock on Oct. 22, Bruce Lisman on Oct. 27 and Jim Douglas on Nov. 11.